The Skyliners starts out with quite the show. We meet Flagan and Galloway Sackett on their way into a town. And this is our introduction to them: “We were fairly out in the middle of the street when hoofs began to pound and a passel of folks a-horseback came charging up, all armed and loaded for feudin’ or bear fightin’. Folks went high-tailing it for shelter when they saw those riders coming, but we were right out in the middle of the street and of no mind to run. They came a-tearing down upon us and one of them taken a cut at me with a quirt, yelling, “Get outen the street!” Well, I just naturally reached up and grabbed a hold on that quirt, and most things I lay a hand to will move. He had a loop around his wrist and couldn’t let go if he was a mind to, so I just jerked and he left that saddle a-flying and landed in the dust. The rest of them, they reined around, of a mind to see some fun.” Of course, the fun they had in mind was to see their guy whip “a pair of green mountain boys putting on a show.” But, it didn’t take long for someone to recognize them as Sacketts and they decided that two Sacketts with Winchesters in hand were not something they wanted to take on while their guns were holstered. So, they drop their guns and prepare to leave with thoughts of coming back to even the score another day. And here is, possibly, my favorite part of the book. “They did as ordered, but Galloway is never one to let things be. He’s got a hankering for the fringe around the edges. “Now, Gentlemen and Fellow-Sinners, you have come this day within the shadow of the valley. It is well for each and everyone of us to recall how weak is the flesh, how close we stand to Judgment, so you will all join me in singing “Rock of Ages.”
He gestured to Black Fetchen. “You will lead the singing, and I hope you are in fine voice.”
“Maybe,” Galloway agreed, “but I want to hear you loud and clear. You got until I count three to start, and you better make sure they all join in.”
“Like hell!” Tory was seventeen, and he was itching to prove himself as tough as he thought he was… or as tough as he wanted others to think he was.
Galloway fired, and that bullet whipped Tory’s hat from his head and notched his ear. “Sing, damn you!” Galloway said; and brother, they sang.
I’ll say this for them, they had good strong voices and they knew the words. Up in the mountains the folks are strong on goin’ to meetin’, and these boys knew all the words. We heard it clear: “Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.”
“Now you all turn around,” Galloway advised, “and ride slow out of town. I want all these good people to know you ain’t bad boys- just sort of rambunctious when there’s nobody about to discipline you a mite.”
Oh man, but I was laughing when I read that! Of course, as I copy it now, and am not startled into laughter by the comedy of it all, I am reminded of another thing that I love about the Sackett books. Even Black Fetchen and his boys know the words to the old hymns. Their Mamas dragged them into church when they were little. Of course, everybody has the chance to make his own choices about who they will follow and serve, but I love thinking about the fact that they were given all the details they needed to make an informed choice.
As you can imagine, they didn’t make any friends with the Fetchens that day, and they end up crossing paths with them again and again throughout the book. They drive cattle across the country, pick up a young lady to escort to her father, and fend off the Fetchens with the same relaxed attitude toward danger that all the Sacketts possess. This one is a fun book to read. Galloway and Flagan are such interesting guys. I’d love to hang out with them of an afternoon. Also, it was great to hear how one Sackett describes another. Since Flagan narrates the book, all descriptions of Galloway come from his thoughts, such as this one, “He was a soft-talking man, but he was tough, and so rough he wore out his clothes from the inside first.” It makes me laugh every time I read it!
But, as is true with all the Sackett books, funny is not all there is to it, there’s thoughtfulness and reflection and loyalty. To remind you of that, I leave you with this last thought.
“We had come a far piece into a strange land, a trail lit by lonely campfires and by gunfire, and the wishing we did by day and by night. Now we rode back to plant roots in the land, and with luck, to leave sons to carry on a more peaceful life, in what we hoped would be a more peaceful world.
But whatever was to come, our sons would be Sacketts, and they would do what had to be done whenever the call would come.”